School district scraps plan to give cold sandwiches to kids with lunch debt

Published: May. 9, 2019 at 5:02 AM CDT
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A Rhode Island school district is walking back a plan to serve cold sandwiches, instead of hot lunches, to students whose families owe lunch money.

Warwick Public Schools said Wednesday that its policy subcommittee recommended the district continue to allow students their choice of lunch regardless of whether they have enough money in their accounts.

The district said it is owed $77,000 from outstanding lunch payments and cannot afford to absorb the costs.

A new policy was set to begin next Monday, but the school faced criticism on social media after posting about the plan this week.

"If money is owed on a paid, free, or reduced lunch account a sun butter and jelly sandwich will be given as the lunch choice until the balance owed is paid in full or a payment plan is set up," the original post read.

RELATED: Seattle dad wipes out school lunch debt in state's 3 largest districts

A local restaurant owner wrote on Facebook that the district twice turned down a $4,000 donation for the lunch debt. The district responded in a statement saying it must treat all students equally and cannot single out which debts to reduce. The district recommended the donor take applications and decide who receives the money.

In a statement, the school committee chairwoman said Wednesday they're working with attorneys to ensure they can "accept donations in compliance with the law and that the donations are applied in an equitable manner."

The district also clarified Wednesday that a sun butter and jelly sandwich is also a daily choice on the school lunch menu, served with vegetables, fruit and milk.

"With this Policy we seek to find a balance between being fiscally responsible and ensuring that all our students are provided with a healthy, nutritious lunch," Warwick School Committee Chairwoman Karen Bachus said.

Additionally, the district noted that 72% of the school lunch debt has been accrued by paying students, not those on a free or reduced lunch plan.

Critics say such lunch debt policies shame children for something outside of their control. The majority of people commenting on the original Facebook post lashed out at the district.

"Children should not be punished for being poor. They should not be singled out with your bad lunch replacements, leaving them open to further bullying," said one person commenting on the post.

"I know as parents this is our responsibility but why take it out on kids if parents are struggling???" said another.

"How bout criminals get those sun-butter sandwiches instead and the students get free meals," another woman said.

Pending legislation would change state law making free hot lunches available for all students regardless of income.